Braley proposes radon mitigation, testing bill


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State and local officials applauded a bill introduced by an Iowa congressman Thursday aimed at detecting and ending the present problem of radon exposure in Iowa schools.

Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, introduced the End Radon in Schools Act Thursday. The bill, if passed, would “protect students, teachers, and school employees from high levels of radon in schools,” according to a press release from Braley’s office.

“We need to ensure that our schools are safe from unacceptable levels of this harmful gas,” he said in the press release. “You cannot see, taste, or smell radon, but it poses a real risk to Iowans. Iowa has one of the highest levels of radon radiation in the country, and I introduced this legislation to ensure that Iowa kids, teachers, and employees are safe from harmful levels of radon when they go to school.”

Radon is an odorless and tasteless gas that is produced by the decaying of uranium that occurs naturally in both water and soil.

Every county in Iowa is considered a Zone 1 risk level by the government. This means these counties have the highest potential for radon exposure in buildings — including schools and homes. The EPA’s proposed 2013 budget will eliminate all the money given to help promote radon awareness and reduce the risks of radon exposure.

The bill would provide grants to states to work with school districts in testing the radon levels present in their school buildings. Schools chosen to receive grants would use the funding to mitigate or reduce radon levels, the release said.

Amanda Bowman, the deputy press secretary for Braley’s Dubuque office, said the bill does not currently specify how much the grant awards would be at this point and that it would be worked out later in the appropriations process.

Bowman said testing ranges from $50 to $85 per space or room in school buildings, and mitigation — if needed — would cost between $3,000 to $30,000 per school.

“The cost of mitigating a school depends on the mitigation strategy, the school building design, the radon concentration in the school rooms, and the number of school rooms affected,” she said in an email. “This is why the cost range is so large. And of course what is most important is making sure that children, teachers, and other school staff are not facing daily exposure to this cancer causing gas.”

Braley worked with the Iowa-based Radon Coalition and the American Cancer Society to create the bill. The Radon Coalition proposed a bill last February to require statewide radon control standards in residential construction but it was shot down.

Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. behind tobacco and is the no. 1 cause of lung cancer for nonsmokers, according to the EPA.

Bill Field, a professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa, said that right now schools are hesitant to test for radon because of the costs associated with fixing the problem. Radon can seep through the foundations of buildings and can be costly to fix, but many times the problem isn’t so expensive, he said.

Iowa only has one piece of legislation regarding the regulation of radon testing, which requires daycares to test for radon every two years. Field is a supporter of the bill.

“The effort on the congressman’s part to try to seek funds was wonderful news to hear,” he said. “I was thrilled to hear that a congressman put this bill forward.”

Iowa State Geologist Robert Libra noted that people spend a large amount of time in schools, and it would be a good idea to test them for radon especially because of Iowa’s background with radon.

“As a public-health concept, it’s a forward thing to do,” he said. “A lot of our dwellings, or a very high level of them, are over the limits.”

Doug Beardsley, the director of the Johnson County Department of Public Health, said education is key to reducing radon’s presence locally.

“We have high levels of radon detected statewide,” he said. “Conceptually, it’s probably a good idea. Any attempts to educate people about mitigating radon where it’s detected are a good thing. It would be a relatively easy thing to do.”

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